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Stanford Medicine Children’s Health uses AI to gain insights on patients | HIMSS 2024


Brendan Watkins, chief analytics officer at Stanford Children’s, talks about synthesizing data, helping clinicians, and why governance shouldn't be boring.

Orlando, Florida – Stanford Medicine Children’s Health has built a data-driven culture over a number of years.

Brendan Watkins, chief analytics officer at Stanford Children’s, is talking about the organization’s integration of analytics during a session Wednesday at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition. He also met with Chief Healthcare Executive® to talk about how Stanford Children’s is using analytics to improve patient care and create more efficiencies.

Watkins says he’s excited about using AI to synthesize data.

“As the chief analytics officer, it's my mission is to make sure we get the insights to people in the right way, very clear, not too much of a data overload. Just the right information,” he said.

In 2019, Stanford Children’s was honored by HIMSS with Stage 7 validation of the Adoption Model for Analytics Maturity. He said one key to Stanford Children’s success is what can sometimes appear to be a boring topic: governance.

But he said organizations looking to do more with AI and data analytics need to have good governance and include a group of people willing to talk about issues such as data privacy and ethics.

“It's important to have the right folks in the table to understand the implications of all this work we're doing,” Watkins said.

“It’s making sure the right people and their voices are brought in,” he said. “When governance is done well, it can be exhilarating.”

At Stanford Children’s, Watkins has been working to synthesize data to offer providers more insights on patient experience from the evaluation forms.

Stanford Children’s is using AI to get insights on patients’ experience during a hospital stay, including their frustrations, “to be able to kind of pull out certain patterns and give that information directly into the hands of the folks who can make a difference, make systematic changes with this data,” Watkins said.

For Watkins, utilizing AI and other new technology is rewarding, but he says the true satisfaction comes in taking those digital tools and using them to help people.

“I always look at the organization like an organism,” Watkins said. “How do you get the information flowing with the right people?”

For health systems that are just beginning their journey into using AI, Watkins suggests focusing on using digital tools to improve business functions before looking at clinical uses.

“For a lot of market, back-office functions, there's a lot of potential for improving the productivity, data management, performance, authorizations, and other things,” Watkins said. “So I think I'd start more with the kind of quicker wins, get some momentum going, build up the capabilities of the team.”

Even tools aimed at reducing burdens on clinicians, such as AI-powered documentations tools that can summarize notes of patient encounters, can lead to better patient care, he notes. Such tools can help physicians spend more time with patients, and more importantly, doctors can look directly at patients, which is particularly important for physicians in a children’s hospital.

“When you're talking about kids, you have to connect directly to the kids, but also look at the families, too,” Watkins said.

Even with the heady conversations around AI in healthcare, Watkins doesn’t foresee artificial intelligence supplanting the role of physicians.

But Watkins paraphrased a radiologist who said that AI won’t replace radiologists, but a radiologist using AI could replace a radiologist who isn’t using artificial intelligence.

But he said AI is going to be able, eventually, to help doctors do their jobs better.

“The AI revolution is upon us,” he said.

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